All Blacks scrum-half Aaron Smith has issued a tearful apology for the airport toilet encounter that has been condemned as embarrassing by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.
Smith, widely considered the game’s best player on current form, has been suspended for one match after entering a disabled bathroom at Christchurch Airport with a woman described as a “lady friend”.
The incident took place after the 41-13 Rugby Championship victory over South Africa on September 17 and at the time Smith, who has a partner, was dressed in All Blacks travel attire.
Speaking from a hotel in Durban where the squad is based ahead of Saturday’s clash with the Springboks, an emotional Smith apologised for the tryst before departing back to New Zealand.
“I’ve made a huge mistake, a huge error in judgment,” the Highlanders scrum-half said.
“I’d firstly like to say a huge sorry to my partner Teagan, her family, my family. I’m also sorry to my team-mates, NZRU and the New Zealand fans.
“My behaviour was unacceptable and if you could respect me and my partner in this situation. I’m just trying to get home to deal with this. Thank you.”
In a sign of the gravity of the latest scandal to have unfolded in New Zealand rugby, Smith’s behaviour was criticised by Key at a time when the sport in his country is facing accusations of misogyny.
“I think Aaron has clearly let himself and those that are close to him down, there’s no question about that,” Key said.
“He’ll have to reflect on that and I’m sure the New Zealand Rugby Football Union will have to reflect on that.
“All that I would say as a general rule in defence of the All Blacks, they have been for the most part very good role models for the last 10 or 20 years, under both Richie McCaw’s leadership and now more recently under Kieran Read.
“They do a lot to try and prove to young New Zealanders that they’re the sort of people to look up to but that’s why I think Aaron will feel pretty disappointed in himself.
“I think the rugby union, coming off the back of a couple of other pretty poor PR issues in recent times, will want to make sure they send a strong message to the All Blacks that they have a high level of expectation in their behaviour. And Aaron clearly didn’t meet it.
“I suspect he’ll be sitting back, reflecting on the fact he’s let himself down, he’s let the team down.
“He’s an integral part of the All Blacks so he won’t want to be sitting on the sidelines, and frankly, he’s embarrassed himself a bit. So I’d say he’d be (a) pretty disappointed young man.”
Head coach Steve Hansen was made aware of the incident upon arrival in South Africa this week and that the one-match ban had been imposed by senior players because it was “not of All Blacks standard”.